In Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth, Henry Nash Smith examines the influence of the myth of the garden on 19th century westward expansion. He attempts to show the ways in which "the image of an agricultural paradise in the West, embodying group memories of an earlier, simpler and, it was believed, a happier state of society, long survived as a force in American thought and politics" (124). But while Smith proclaims the pairing of westward movement with the myth of the garden an uniquely American construction, an examination of the historical record reveals that European explorers were pulled westward in search of the literal and figurative Garden of Eden long before Americans began migrating toward the country's center. The following excerpts from European explorers will demonstrate that the American expansion westward in search of the garden was simply a continuation of the European process of exploration. The mixture of myth, politics, and westward expansion that drew 19th-century Americans westward had roots firmly anchored in Europe.
This site is part of a larger project, the Virgin Land hypertext project, which lives at the American Studies Program at the University of Virginia.
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